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Japan Pilots: U.S. Planes Too Close

April 2, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ Accusing Japan of ignoring their concerns, three Japanese pilot unions declared Thursday that they will take their complaints about close encounters with American warplanes directly to U.S. authorities.

The unions say Japanese commercial airliners have had three close calls with U.S. military jets in Japanese airspace since September. None of the airliners was forced to take evasive action and no one was injured.

But the commercial pilots say the incidents were dangerous, prompting their unions to petition the Japanese government for an investigation. All three unions were turned down, said Kazuhiro Kawamoto, president of the Flight Crew Union of Japan.

``We are dissatisfied with the response from the government,″ said Kawamoto, a Boeing 747 captain at All Nippon Airways Co. ``This should be taken care of by Japanese authorities, but we will meet with the Americans.″

Kawamoto said the three unions, whose 6,800 members represent all Japanese commercial pilots, will hand their petition to officials from the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. military.

The U.S. Air Force refused to comment.

``All flight operations are governed by stringent regulations,″ said Master Sgt. Dan McCarthy, an Air Force spokesman.

The unions stressed that they weren’t calling for the departure of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan, just new rules to keep fighters away from commercial air routes.

The petitions describe three separate incidents in which cockpit alarms _ called Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems _ warned pilots that they were on a collision course with another aircraft.

The ACAS sounds when two aircraft are on course to collide within 40 seconds.

In the first incident, in September, the alarm sounded on an All Nippon Airways Airbus A-300 flying from Tokyo to the northern city of Aomori when two aircraft, later identified as Air Force F-16 fighters from Misawa air base in northern Japan, rapidly approached from below.

The warplanes veered off before pilot Mikio Hayashida was forced to take evasive action, which could have injured passengers or crew walking about the cabin.

``I kept staring at the indicator, trying to calm down,″ Hayashida told The Associated Press in January. ``I was afraid the jets might come really close.″

The other two encounters involved domestic flights of Japan Airlines Co. One case involved F-16s from Misawa, the other Marine Corps warplanes in airspace over southern Japan.

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